Mr. Speaker, I am the hon. member for Halifax. In the riding of Halifax, we have a deep connection with the Atlantic Ocean. For some, it is just during the summer months for recreation and having some fun on the beach. For others, particularly those who work on the water, that connection to the Atlantic Ocean is year round.
Of course, we all know that the ocean provides many benefits for our communities. We also think of the ocean as being this beautiful thing. We stand and look off into the distance at the horizon and it is breathtaking. However, our relationship to the ocean at home is interesting. If one goes to any of the small fishing communities in Nova Scotia, one would see a house on a bluff overlooking the ocean, but if we look closely, we see that very often the side of the house that faces the ocean does not have a window. If it does, it just has a small window over the sink.
When tourists see this, they wonder why they do not have wraparound windows on that side of the house and a deck overlooking the ocean. Why are all these houses built without windows facing the ocean? I have had it explained to me a couple of ways, both of which are compelling and really touch one's heart.
Some people have said, “Why would you want a view of the factory you work at?” Spending 10 to 12 hours at work every day just to come home and look at the factory is not something one would want to do. Fair enough, it is where they work.
Other folks have explained it to me as, “Why would you have your home facing the source of so much anxiety and possible pain?” Their family members go out to fish in the morning and they wait to see if they will come back, wait to see if the weather will change. They just wait, and that constant reminder of having the windows facing the ocean can bring a lot of heartache sometimes.
This is not just in Nova Scotia. I am sure it is the same in New Brunswick and I know it is the same in Newfoundland. It is a difficult tension that we have with the ocean. My colleague for Dartmouth—Cole Harbour was talking about The Ocean Ranger and he encouraged members of the House to pick that book up. It was written by Susan Dodd and published by Fernwood Publishing, a Nova Scotian publisher. I agree with the member, people really should pick up this book; it is fantastic.
Susan Dodd wrote the book when her brother was killed in the Ocean Ranger disaster. The Ocean Ranger sank off the coast of Newfoundland, and it lost a crew of 84 men. It was called the worst sea disaster in Canada since the Second World War, but at the same time, people talked about it as if it was just a situation with a bad storm. It sort of faded into our memories. The media talked about it like extreme weather, and it was on the weather pages, frankly.
Susan Dodd worked to take that history out of the weather section. She compiled it and really pieced it together. She maps out the socio-political processes of the aftermath. She maps out where the money and power are, where the hopes for the future are, and really brings it to a fuller picture of lessons learned by a heroic industry advancing technology in the face of a pretty brutal environment.
I will read a review of the book because I think it bears on what we are talking about today. The review is from Eric Tucker, Osgoode Hall Law School, York University:
This is an extraordinary book. Much more than a personal narrative about the impact of an industrial disaster on a family, Dodd explores memory of industrial disasters as a complex and multi-layered project. Her reading of government reports, lawsuits and monetary settlements, songs and novels illuminate the different ways the past is commemorated and reconstructed and the implications for moving forward. Dodd’s discussion of personal injury litigation and the role of monetary compensation, or ‘blood money’, should be mandatory reading for all first-year law students.
I thought it was appropriate to read because it was the “mandatory reading for first-year law students”. We are not first-year law students here, but we are talking about law. That is what we are talking about right now. We are debating a bill that may or may not, depending on votes, become law. I suspect it will become law. It is important for us to have the bigger picture in mind when we are talking about law, and the bigger picture does include the overall health and safety of workers.
There actually are fishing villages in the riding of Halifax, which I represent. In one of these fishing villages, Sambro, every year we go out for a blessing of the fleet. It is quite magical. We go out onto the water and Reverend Keltie from St. James United Church comes and we have a wreath and flowers, and she blesses the fleet. She blesses the recreational boats, the fishing boats, the Coast Guard boats, and she blesses the people who will be working at sea, and we pay tribute to the lives lost at sea. That is the reality of our communities.
That harsh reality is something we want to avoid. We want to avoid certain incidents, like the incident in 1999. When I asked my colleague from Dartmouth—Cole Harbour a question, I talked about the Nordic Apollo when Shawn Hatcher died. We want to avoid that situation where, at the end of it, no one is apparently responsible. There were no charges laid. How does this happen? There is nothing for us to do because the Nova Scotia Offshore Petroleum Board and Newfoundland Offshore Petroleum Board are not safety agencies. We have a terrible tragedy such as the Nordic Apollo and it was not only not prevented, but there were no consequences, no recrimination.
When looking at a bill like Bill C-5, we need to think about prevention and we also need to think about consequences. I do not think that health and safety hazards should be business as usual. We have to work proactively to formally legislate and enforce safety and health standards. That is why we are here, to legislate. That is what this place is all about.
That is why the NDP does support the bill as a step forward for tackling safety for offshore workers, but we need to continue to work beyond it. The bill is quite timely, since we are seeing a situation off the shores of Nova Scotia where there is new exploration by Shell and BP for the first time since the 2010 BP oil spill off the Gulf coast. These are important things to keep in mind as well. However, what we can do is ensure that greater efforts are made to recognize these kinds of dangers and to also prevent future injuries and deaths in the workplace.
What do I like about Bill C-5? I like the fact that it would fill in a gap in legislation that has existed for decades, since 1992 when amendments to the Atlantic accord first separated out health from safety issues. It would create a framework that spells out the individual and shared roles and responsibilities of the federal government, the provincial government, regulators, employers, operators, suppliers, and employees.
I also like the fact that it would provide employees with the right to refuse to perform an activity that they have reasonable cause to believe is unsafe. We need to rely on employees' judgment. If they are uncomfortable performing that task, they should have the right to refuse it. An employee, in reporting an unsafe condition, should be able to do so without fear of reprisal.
I also like the fact that Bill C-5 would provide these regulatory boards and the operator the authority to disclose relevant occupational health and safety information to the public. Finally, the bill would support a culture of occupational health and safety, and it would recognize shared responsibilities in the workplace.
These are some of the aspects that I do like, not just for their content or what they do but because they really represent a victory for the labour movement and for the NDP, if I can be so bold. Both the labour movement and the NDP have been advocating for a legislated offshore safety regime for years. Bravo, but—and we knew there had to be a but—though there are many aspects of Bill C-5 that are constructive and push forward workers' health and safety, I have to stress that this really is only the beginning. It is really just the tip of the iceberg. There is a lot of room for improvement, and the NDP is committed to working with the provinces. If New Democrats were in government, we would open up that conversation with provinces to put forward measures that would further strengthen and improve the safety regime for offshore workers in Newfoundland and Labrador as well as Nova Scotia.
Speaking of Nova Scotia, I would like to give a big shout out to the former NDP Nova Scotia government that put a lot of work into this issue. It made the safety issues a priority. It worked to protect offshore workers equally with the work that onshore workers do. In fact, the labour movement in both Newfoundland and Labrador and Nova Scotia work closely with their respective provincial governments. We should all be really proud of their achievements in collaboration with these governments to establish a protective regime for offshore workers in the oil and gas industry.
You probably know, Mr. Speaker, that this is mirror legislation that will be passing through the provinces as well. There was a situation in the spring where there was mirror legislation with Nova Scotia and the federal government around the Sable Island bill, creating Sable Island National Park. It can be a pretty hostile environment here. It can be pretty partisan here, but a bill like Bill C-5 or the Sable Island National Park bill are examples of what we can do when we work together, when the federal government works collaboratively with the provinces. Very often, provinces know what they need on the ground, but it is only the federal government that can enact the legislation. I will give credit where credit is due and say that the consultation process around Sable Island was exceptional. I really think that Parks Canada did a great job of making sure that Nova Scotians and the people in Halifax had their voices heard.
We have a situation where the federal government has been working with the provinces. The Nova Scotia NDP passed Bill C-5's mirror legislation in the legislature in May of this year. It has also said that the provincial legislation was a good start, but it went back to the Wells report. We have heard a lot today about the Wells report, specifically recommendation 29. I will quote Charlie Parker, who was the energy minister. He stated:
Industry and offshore employees need consistent regulations when it comes to health and safety on the job, especially since we're dealing with an industry that overlaps federal jurisdiction and two provinces.
That is a good point. This is why we have mirror legislation and this is why the provinces and the federal government need to work together.
Former energy minister Charlie Parker also said:
The proposed amendments will provide clear authority on issues of occupational health and safety, and better protect people involved in offshore oil and gas.
This legislation complements the work already underway to promote workplace safety in every industry across the province to ensure all workers, whether on land or sea, return home safe at the end of the day.
That is the point, is it not? It goes to show that this is an important improvement to the offshore occupational health and safety regime that the NDP has called for in all the relevant jurisdictions, not just at the federal level.
I want to talk about this idea of the stand-alone safety regulator, because I think that is the big piece that is missing in Bill C-5. We heard my colleague from Dartmouth—Cole Harbour talk about the Westray bill. He talked about the need for a dedicated prosecutor in situations like that. He talked about the Westray bill and the fact that while it was a huge victory that this bill passed, no one has been charged. We can sometimes create something, but unless it is actually going to be effective, it is all for naught. We need to create an independent stand-alone safety regulator but also to ensure that it is effective.
This is the big omission that really stands out for me in Bill C-5. When Justice Wells was making his recommendations on safety, he included that recommendation for an independent stand-alone safety regulator to be established. On this point, in the Wells report, he said:
...the Safety Regulator should be separate and independent from all other components of offshore regulation and should stand alone, with safety being its only regulatory task.... Independent and stand-alone safety regulators are now in place in Norway, the United Kingdom, and Australia, and the same concept is, I understand, being developed in the United States for the Gulf of Mexico.
That is the key thing, that it should be their only regulator task. This should not be the job of the C-NLOPB or the CNSOPB. It should be the job of an independent safety regulator.
Justice Wells included an important warning on why independence was a necessary condition for the regulator. He said that the problem was that without independence, we risked the development of a culture of regulatory capture. This is when relationships are fostered between the safety regulator and the organization, subject to the safety regulations, that ultimately lead to a bit of the bending of the rules, a bit of lack of compliance. We need to ensure we do not get into that regulatory capture culture.
I want to be clear that he did not actually find this culture existed already, but that we had to be vigilant against it when we were dealing with human health and safety.
Justice Wells also recommended some alternative options if it was not possible to establish a safety regulator. He recommended that the government create a separate autonomous safety division of the CNLOPB with a separate budget, separate leadership and an organizational structure designed to deal only with safety matters.
He recommended that the government establish an advisory board composed of mature and experienced persons fully representative of the community and who were unconnected with the oil industry.
Finally, he recommended that the government ensure that the safety division would have the mandate and ability to engage, either on staff or as consultants, expert advisers to assist it in its regulatory tasks.
Those are three very reasonable recommendations, that it be separate, that the people who are on it be experienced and not have links to the oil industry and that they have the ability to hire experts. It makes very good sense, yet in Bill C-5 we do not actually see any evidence of that.
The bill does not include even one of those alternatives. It is silent on this front, whether it is the independent safety regulator or one of the alternatives. It is not only puzzling, it is very concerning.
The NDP, although we support this legislation for the improvements it makes, is very concerned that Justice Wells has been ignored on this point and we will continue to push for that independent, stand-alone safety regulator.
I will move to the length of time that it took to take action on this. Obviously there are clear reasons why the bill was necessary, and it is only fair that offshore workers have sufficient health and safety standards. This is why the provinces took action themselves on this file. In fact, the NDP government in Nova Scotia, under Darrell Dexter, was a leader on this file, and he did great work. As members heard, we did pass mirror legislation this May.
The provinces needed the federal government to take action as well, because this is a joint initiative. The lack of federal action has actually rendered the provincial action pointless. It takes two to tango. The provinces were pulling up their end of the deal and the feds were nowhere to be found.
There has been a 14-year delay for federal action. I will be fair and say the Conservatives are only responsible for the last eight years, but the Liberals were of course responsible for the six years before that. We need the feds to actually work with provinces. As I said earlier, provinces know what we need on the ground, they know what our communities need and they have good ideas.
Sometimes it does fall to the federal jurisdiction to actually legislate, and I do not understand why we have seen such a delay. I rarely understand government priorities, so I do not know why I am particularly puzzled by that one.